Queensland set to ban property developer donations

The Queensland Government is set to introduce legislation to ban property developers from giving political donations at both the local and state level following the release of the Crime and Corruption Commission's (CCC) report Operation Belcarra: A blueprint for integrity and addressing corruption risk in local government.

The CCC made 31 recommendations which Chairperson Alan MacSporran QC said would, if implemented, result in “the most substantial reform of the local government sector in Queensland’s history”.

Mr MacSporran said Operation Belcarra and other recent investigations had “identified significant weaknesses in the current framework and reform is needed to deliver equity, transparency, integrity and better accountability in council elections and council decision-making”.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the government is considering the recommendations, and key reforms to be addressed will include banning developer donations and strengthening processes to address conflict of interest concerns. She said that any changes in rules for local government would be applied at the state level as well, and that she would place a submission before Cabinet this week.

The recommendations target the four key components of the local government sector being councillors, candidates, donors and the Electoral Commission.

The CCC identified widespread non-compliance with the Local Government Electoral Act 2011.

The CCC also identified deficiencies in how the Electoral Commission Queensland (ECQ) currently operates and has recommended changes to broaden its role.

The 31 recommendations would create new obligations for candidates, councillors, donors and the ECQ to ensure equity, transparency, and integrity and accountability is improved during local government elections and in the ongoing administration of council business across Queensland.

Key recommendations include:

  • Consider the introduction of campaign expenditure caps

  • Introduce real-time disclosure of electoral expenditure

  • Make all candidates’ interests, including party political membership, known to voters before polling day

  • More clearly define what is meant by a “group” of candidates

  • Ensure all donations are known to voters before polling day

  • Make more information about donors and donations available to the public

  • Prohibit donations from property developers to local government councillors and candidates

  • Improve compliance by candidates and donors with disclosure obligations

  • Improve candidates’ management of campaign funds

  • Improve how councillors identify and manage conflicts of interest

  • Strengthen regulatory responses to non-compliance.

To address how conflicts of interests are managed, the CCC recommends legislative reform so other councillors in the room decide if a councillor has a conflict and therefore should take no part in a decision or vote rather than allowing individual councillors to decide for themselves.

The CCC also recommends the advisory and public awareness functions of the Queensland Integrity Commissioner be extended to local government councillors to help provide advice to them on possible conflicts of interest.

The CCC also recommends a number of changes to the ECQ to ensure they have the adequate resources and powers to more effectively administer local government elections. These recommendations include:

  • Amending the disclosure return forms to ensure they capture all information required to be disclosed by the law to assist candidates and donors comply with their obligations

  • Improving the use of the Electronic Disclosure System (EDS) to make more data available to the public

  • Resourcing the ECQ to monitor compliance adequately.

The full report is available at: www.ccc.qld.gov.au/operationbelcarra

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